Lee wins, but can Phillies get him to the top?

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Lee wins, but can Phillies get him to the top?

BOX SCORE

MINNEAPOLIS -- The singles-hitting Phillies scored just enough runs to break a season-long, five-game losing streak and get Cliff Lee a much-deserved win Thursday night.

The 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins was another of those tooth-and-nail jobs in which everything has to go right for the Phillies to win. They put together a nice little rally in the top of the eighth to get Lee the lead and Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon closed it out. Papelbon earned his 12th save in his first save chance since May 29 (see Instant Replay).

Lee improved to 8-2 on the season and 7-1 in 10 starts following a Phillies loss.

Obviously, the Phillies have done a lot of losing this season. They are just 2-5 on this trip and 32-35 on the season, 7½ games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East.

July is right around the corner and with the Phillies sputtering, Lee’s name will soon be hot in trade rumors. Hey, it already is.

So what does ol’ Cliff think?

He offered a glimpse into his thoughts in a chat with reporters after the game. Here it is in Q & A form:

Q: You came here to win. How tough is it to be here on a team that’s spinning its wheels around .500 and has a real uphill road?

A: “The past year and a half hasn’t gone the way I anticipated, but that’s why you play the games. You never know. I don’t think anyone here is happy with the way we’ve played over that time frame. It’s due to a lot of injuries. There’s some good excuses. But they’re still excuses. We’re the Philadelphia Phillies. We should play better than we have. There’s not a good excuse for it, but we have had a lot of key guys injured, so it is what it is.”

Q: As currently constituted, do you think this team can be a playoff team?

A: “What?”

Q: With the current makeup of this team, do you think it can be a playoff team?

A: “I can’t look at it any other way besides I expect us to win and catch up with the Braves and get into the postseason. That’s the only way you can look at it.”

Q: If it doesn’t turn around, do you want to stay?

A: “I definitely want to win. There’s no doubt about that. I want to win. I don’t know how to say it besides that. I want to win.”

Q: If it doesn’t turn around, are you prepared to stay here for two months and play out the string?

A: “I don’t have any control over that. I know that I want to win and I’ll voice that to whoever. And that’s that. I want to win here. That’s why I signed here and that’s where my focus is.”

Q: Are you surprised it’s gone like this the last two seasons? (The Phils won the NL East with Lee in 2011, but missed the playoffs last year.)

A: “We had one chance at it in 2½ years. This year is not over yet. I expected to get multiple shots at it. But there are 29 other teams thinking the same thing. So nothing is going to be given to you and nobody feels sorry for you. You’ve got to go earn it. I’m going to keep doing what I can to give this team a chance to win when I pitch and that’s really all I can control.”

There’s some interesting stuff in there.

Foremost, Lee was given the opportunity to say he wanted to remain with the Phillies even if they continued to plod along out of the money, and he wouldn’t commit to it.

Lee has a limited no-trade clause in which he can block deals to 20 teams, but no-trade clauses can be negotiated away. With his 35th birthday approaching, it’s difficult to imagine Lee blocking a deal that would send him to a team with a chance of winning a World Series. That is if the Phillies decide to move him. There is a school of thought that they will hang on to him, cross their fingers for a second-half run and try to get it together with Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation next season.

But can Lee, hungry to win and tired of losing, wait that long?

We’ll see.

In the meantime, savor every Lee start. Like this one. He allowed just three hits over seven innings, walked one and struck out six. He faced the minimum through 6 1/3 before allowing a walk, an infield single and a two-run double on his only bad pitch of the night, a hanging 0-2 cutter to Justin Morneau. Lee didn’t make it past the seventh because he had a blister on his middle finger.

Down a run in the top of the eighth, Kevin Frandsen (pinch-hit double) started a two-run rally that allowed the Phils to retake the lead. Jimmy Rollins’ ground out scored Ben Revere (four hits) with the go-ahead run and Adams and Papelbon did the rest.

“Cliff pitched too well to lose that game,” Frandsen said.

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he expects the club to add three players from the minors on Friday. Rosters expand on Thursday, an off day for the Phils.

“A couple of relievers, maybe a hitter,” Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game against Washington.

Mackanin would not name names because a lot can change in a day or two.

Darin Ruf seems to be a logical choice to be the hitter Mackanin referred to. He opened the season with the big club, but got just 57 at-bats and hit just .158 before being sent to Triple A when Tommy Joseph came up. Since going down, Ruf has hit .298 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and a .895 OPS in 94 games for Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies will likely add two relievers to fortify the bullpen. Patrick Schuster, a lefty who was recently claimed off waivers from Oakland, could be a possibility. Colton Murray, Luis Garcia, Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo all could be possibilities, as well. All have spent time in the majors this season.

The Phils can’t completely pick over the Triple A roster because Lehigh Valley’s regular season runs through Monday and that club is likely to be in the International League playoffs.

Once Lehigh Valley’s season is over, more pitching could come. Starters David Buchanan and Phil Klein could be possibilities. Alec Asher, currently serving a suspension for testing positive for PEDs, is expected to be activated by the big club next week and could provide some innings to the starting rotation.

It’s unclear which prospects will come up. Catcher Jorge Alfaro seems to be a shoo-in after Double A Reading’s playoff run. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is not on the 40-man roster and does not need to be protected on it this winter. That could prevent him from coming up as the Phillies look to use the 40-man roster spot on a player that they could lose if not protected. Outfielder Nick Williams seemed to be a lock to come up a month ago, but his performance has slipped at Triple A in recent weeks and he now looks iffy.

Williams, like Alfaro, was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade last summer. The lefty-hitting outfielder entered Wednesday hitting .265 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs and just a .294 on-base percentage in 119 games. He entered Wednesday hitting just .187 with a paltry .204 on-base percentage in the month of August. He had struck out 34 times and walked just once in 93 trips to the plate in August.

That certainly cannot sit well with a front office that puts a premium on players who "control the strike zone."

AFL rosters announced
The Phillies will send six players to the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The group includes three pitchers, right-handed relievers Victor Arano and Miguel Nunez, and lefty starter Brandon Liebrandt, second baseman Scott Kingery, third baseman Mitch Walding, and outfielder Aaron Brown. Brown replaces outfielder Andrew Pullin, who recently went on the disabled list at Double A Reading with an elbow injury.

Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

Tommy Joseph is back in the starting lineup … as he's expected to be for most of the final month of the season. Joseph bats fourth behind third baseman Maikel Franco.

Joseph did not start Tuesday night in the Phillies' 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals. The 25-year-old is hitting .251 with 17 home runs and 34 RBIs.

The slugger has a significantly higher average against left-handed pitching than righties, despite clubbing 12 of his 17 homers against right-handed pitchers.

Joseph has yet to faced Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez.

In other lineup notes, Tyler Goeddel gets the start in left field and will hit eighth, while A.J. Ellis gets his second start as a Phillie. He'll catch Adam Morgan.

Here is the full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Freddy Galvis, SS
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Tyler Goeddel, LF
9. Adam Morgan, P

For more on tonight's game, read Steven Tydings' game notes.

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Adam Morgan, Phils vie to avoid sweep

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Adam Morgan, Phils vie to avoid sweep

Phillies (60-72) vs. Nationals (77-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

For the second time in less than a week, the Phillies try to avoid a sweep by winning the final game of a series against a division opponent. Adam Morgan will try to overcome the Phillies' struggles as well as his own, while the Nationals toss out veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez (see tonight's lineup)

Here are five things to know for Wednesday night.

1. Close to quality
For just the fifth time this year, Morgan put together a quality start for the Phillies on Aug. 19 against the Cardinals. In his follow up outing against the Mets on Friday, he came quite close to another one.

If it wasn't obvious from his 1-8 record and his 6.50 ERA, Morgan has been absymal this season. He's shown glimpses of his talent, such as his strong start against the Cards or his seven innings of one-run ball on May 10 in Atlanta. Yet for the most part, his outings have been filled with hits and home runs.

Back to Friday. He had gotten through the Mets' lineup with just two runs in five innings, keeping the Phillies in the game while Bartolo Colon held them at bay. But a grand slam ended his night and gave him an ugly six-run, eight-hit line in five innings of play. While he tied a career-high with eight strikeouts, he allowed three home runs. That simply won't get it done.

In his final start of the month, he needs to put together a strong outing to prove he's worthy of a rotation spot even after rosters expand in September. If he keeps allowing more runs than innings pitched, it'd be tough to keep handing him the ball.

2. Lefty in decline
In the first two games of the series, the Phillies saw two starters that they will see plenty of in the future: Tanner Roark and Max Scherzer. Now they face a man who headed their rotations of the past.

Gonzalez was traded to the Nationals in 2012 for his age-26 season after becoming an All Star for the first time. Not only did he come up with another All Star appearance in 2012, he won a league-high 21 games and finished third in the Cy Young vote.

However, that was Gonzalez's peak. His ERA has declined every season since 2012 and he no longer strikes out more than a batter an inning. When he was truly at his best, he was able to keep the ball in the ballpark at a very solid rate (0.4 home runs per nine innings in 2012). He was able to match that mark in 2015, but he's given up his most home runs per nine innings (1.0) since his rookie season in 2009. 

The bad news for the Phillies is Gonzalez has a solid track record against them. He's 8-6 in 18 starts against them with a 2.82 ERA. He strikes out almost exactly a batter an inning in those games while not walking as many batters as he usually does. He's even better at Citizens Bank with a 2.52 ERA in 11 starts. 

Despite giving up just two earned runs over 13⅓ innings against the Phillies in April, he did not earn a win in his two starts. In fact, he lost his second start against them while the Nationals lost both games. 

3. Outperforming expectations
The Phillies are nowhere close to their 14-10 start, but that was to be expected. Very few thought the Phils could begin the season on such a strong run, which lasted into mid-May. 

Right now, they have a 60-72 record. However, their pythagorean record (which uses their runs scored and runs allowed to project what their record should be) is 51-81, nine games worse. 

Meanwhile, the Nationals are 77-55, comfortably in first place in the NL East. But their pythagorean record is 81-51, four games better than their current pace. 

There are plenty of reasons why teams can outperform or underperform compared to their pythagorean record. A team that outperforms can have a series of blowout wins that inflate their runs scored despite a 10-run outburst only contributes to one win. Teams that underperform tend to have lot of success in close games (or have suffered a few blowout losses), yet they also usually regress and start playing more toward their projected record.

The easiest way to explain why the Phillies and Nationals would have the out or underperformed is their bullpens. The Phils have had a strong backend of their bullpen with Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris, who have been able to close out many close Phillies wins. Meanwhile, the Nationals had Jonathan Papelbon closing for them. Papelbon had a poor enough season to be designated for assignment after blowing a few games this summer. 

The other reasons are the ones listed above: the Nationals' offense has produced some big outbursts thanks to hitters like Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper and the Phillies have had some blowout losses (that Mets series last week was a great example). 

However, the main takeaway from this may be the surplus wins the Phillies have produced thanks to their bullpen. Without Neris or Gomez, the team would not be where they are because close leads wouldn't have been as safe as they've been. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: With the news that Ryan Howard will be getting less playing time, Tommy Joseph is the man who will benefit. He takes on a lefty tonight, although he hasn't faced Gonzalez before because he was not in the majors in April.

Nationals: Despite going 0 for 4 on Tuesday, former Phillie Jayson Werth has been on a tear this month. He's hit seven home runs, including one Monday. He also has a .346 average against lefties.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are 1-7 against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park this year. That includes a sweep by the Nationals from May 30-June 1, the first sweep by the Nationals at CBP since Sept. 20-22, 2011 (a four-game series).

• Freddy Galvis has the most at-bats of any current Phillie against Gonzalez. He's 8 for 31 with a home run, two doubles and a walk.

• Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa is 2 for 6 against Morgan with two home runs. Nats catcher Wilson Ramos is 3 for 5 with a home run and five RBIs. 

• The Phillies are 12-13 in August despite have allowed 150 runs and scored just 111. The Nationals are 16-11 this month.